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MoveOn's Two-Front War By: Byron York
The Hill | Monday, July 25, 2005

Damn, damn, damn.   

For all these years, Democrats have been preparing to make war on President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, and now that they have the chance they’d give anything to put it off so that they can continue making war on Bush’s top political adviser.

Talk about bad timing.

Not long after the president nominated John Roberts for the court Tuesday night, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean released a statement that began:

“Faced with a growing scandal surrounding the involvement of Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby in the leaking of the identity of a covert CIA operative, President Bush announced his nomination of John Roberts. ...”

Now those are the words of a frustrated man. Just when Democrats had gained momentum in the Plamegate affair, Bush came up with a beautifully stage-managed rollout of his court nominee.

In the brief ceremony, Bush performed well and, more important, Roberts seemed eminently reasonable and nonthreatening. Are Democrats going to call this guy the devil?

Even worse for Dean and his party, all three broadcast networks, as well as the cable outfits, chose to televise the president’s unusual prime-time announcement ceremony. Instead of having a Rose Garden gathering in the afternoon and a two-minute report on the evening news, Bush got huge coverage.

Everyone got a look at Roberts, and after a few words both he and the president quickly moved offstage. No questions asked.

In one skilful stroke, Bush got maximum exposure for his new nominee and, at the same time, managed to avoid the problems that beset Bill Clinton back in 1993 when he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

You may remember that Clinton introduced Ginsburg in a White House ceremony and that Ginsburg gave a speech that paid tribute to the women’s movement, the civil-rights movement and Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

At the end of it, President Clinton, who appeared to have been moved by Ginsburg’s remarks, opened things up for questions and Brit Hume, then with ABC News, asked about the chaotic process — Hume said it had “a certain zigzag quality” — that led to Ginsburg’s nomination.

Clinton’s face reddened with anger. “How you could ask a question like that after the statement she just made is beyond me,” Clinton said. He then stalked away.

That was perhaps the model of how not to unveil a Supreme Court nominee. Bush did better.

Now Democrats are scrambling to wage a two-front war.

It won’t be easy. For example, just hours before the Roberts nomination, MoveOn.org, the Internet organizing group that has become a major force in Washington, had just released a new anti-Rove ad demanding that the White House “STOP THE COVER-UP. FIRE KARL ROVE.”

Later, MoveOn was forced to move Rove down its homepage as it posted a new headline: “OPPOSE JOHN ROBERTS.”

And despite all the time it had to prepare attacks on all potential Bush nominees, the best MoveOn could come up with about Roberts was that he is allegedly “right wing” and — even worse in the world of MoveOn — “corporate.”

“In nominating John Roberts, the president has chosen a right wing corporate lawyer and ideologue for the nation’s highest court instead of a judge who would protect the rights of the American people,” MoveOn wrote.


Much of MoveOn’s rhetoric is based on the idea of opposing “corporate” media, or “corporate” criminals, or “corporate” lawyers, on the grounds that they are “corporate.” That goes over well with the MoveOn house-party crowd. But will it work in a nationwide campaign against a Supreme Court nominee?

We’ll see.

The more experienced hands in the nomination-killing business are being a little more subtle.

Ralph Neas of People for the American Way pronounced himself “extremely disappointed” by the choice of Roberts.

Why? It’s not exactly clear.

“John Roberts’s record raises serious concerns and questions about where he stands on crucial legal and constitutional issues,” Neas said, adding that “it will be critical for senators and the American people to get answers to those questions.”

Neas ally Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also didn’t waste time on specifics. Taking a break from his anti-Rove campaign — Schumer appeared last week with Ambassador Joseph Wilson to demand that Rove’s security clearance be revoked — Schumer made the point that he reserves the right to try to kill the Roberts nomination for any reason at all, or for no reason at all.

“The burden is on a nominee to the Supreme Court to prove that he is worthy, not on the Senate to prove he is unworthy,” Schumer said.

So now Democrats begin their two-front war. In the coming weeks, they’ll be attacking Rove and Roberts, Roberts and Rove. Of course it all might come to nothing, from their point of view — Rove gets off and Roberts gets confirmed.

But you gotta try.

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